Tag: department of homeland security

REAL ID Retreats Yet Again

Several different outlets are noting the quiet passing of a Department of Homeland Security deadline to implement our national ID law, the REAL ID Act.

In May of 2008, with many states outright rejecting this national surveillance mandate, the DHS issued blanket waivers and set a new deadline of December 31, 2009 by which states were supposed to meet several compliance goals.

They have not, and the threat that the DHS/Transportation Security Administration would prevent Americans from traveling has quieted to a whimper.

The reason why? The federal government would be blamed for it. As Neala Schwartzberg writes in her review of the push and pull over REAL ID:

If I was a betting person (and I am from time to time) I’d bet the backed-up-down-the-corridor traveler who is then turned away after presenting his or her state-issued, official complete with hologram ID will blame Homeland Security.

Does the ongoing collapse of REAL ID leave us vulnerable?

Richard Esguerra of the Electronic Frontier Foundation says in this Wired article that REAL ID “threatens citizens’ personal privacy without actually justifying its impact or improving security.”

REAL ID remains a dead letter. All that remains is for Congress to declare it so. And it may be dawning on Congress that passing it a second time under the name “PASS ID” will not work.

Latest REAL ID Deadline Will Pass Without a Blip

Via the ACLU blog, there’s no chance that the Department of Homeland Security will interfere with Americans’ travel when its latest deadline for REAL ID compliance passes at the end of this month. As happened with the original deadline for states to implement the national ID, DHS will give out waivers to recalcitrant states instead of carrying out the threat of refusing to accept travelers’ IDs at airports.

States were required by Tuesday to request a waiver from DHS showing that they had met certain milestones for REAL ID compliance. But according to NextGov, Arkansas, Idaho, Kansas, Missouri, Montana, New Jersey, Oklahoma, South Carolina, and three U.S. territories have not asked for a waiver.

Supporters of a REAL ID revival bill called “PASS ID” want to use this end-of-year impasse to hustle their bill through Congress (the way REAL ID was originally passed). But the impasse is fake, and states can do what they want.

“Should Congress not act before it adjourns this year, DHS has planned for contingencies related to REAL ID implementation, including extending the deadline as a last resort,” said a DHS spokesman.

“I E-Verify”: Do Businesses Agree With Your Values?

My March 2008 paper, Franz Kafka’s Solution to Illegal Immigration, detailed the problems with electronic employment verification systems. The paper concludes that successful “internal enforcement” of immigration law requires a national ID—and ultimately a cradle-to-grave biometric tracking system.

The Department of Homeland Security has started a program called the “I E-Verify” campaign for businesses that use the federal background check system on its employees. If you see businesses with “I E-Verify” decorations or insignia, they at least indirectly support a national ID system in the United States. This can help you decide whether or not you want to spend your dollars with them.

‘The End of Privacy’ and the Surveillance-Industrial Complex

National Public Radio’s All Things Considered ran a series on “The End of Privacy” all last week that’s worth a listen. They’re primarily concerned with the ways private companies have access to vast quantities of information about individuals in the digital age—something that civil libertarians have traditionally been less concerned about than government access, for many perfectly valid reasons.  But it’s worth noting how porous that distinction can be.  A 2006 survey by the Government Accountability Office found that just four government agencies—the Justice Department, Department of Homeland Security, State Department, and Social Security Administration—spent at least $30 million annually on contracts with information resellers like Choicepoint. The vast majority of that data (91%) was used for law enforcement or counterterror purposes.  And GAO found that the resellers weren’t always in full compliance with the privacy practices that the agencies themselves are supposed to follow.

Choicepoint, coincidentally, is one of the largest clients of the consulting firm run by former Attorney General John Ashcroft. Little wonder given the amount of cash at stake: As reporter Tim Shorrock has documented, some 70 percent of our vast intelligence budget is channeled through private-sector contractors, which means that we need to understand government surveillance policy in the context of a “surveillance-industrial complex” that parallels the more familiar military-industrial complex known for bringing us $600 toilet seats and other forms of pork in camo gear. It’s worth bearing in mind that it’s not just investigatory zeal and public fear driving the expansion of the surveillance state—a lot of people are making a lot of money off it as well.

“VIPR” Stands for “Visible Intermodal Prevention and Response” …

… and it’s sinking its fangs into Americans’ civil liberties.

Here’s a story about a “VIPR” team performing a “sting” operation on innocent Americans at a bus terminal in Florida, searching their persons and bags and discovering their petty crimes.

It’s almost a certainty that whoever named this sub-unit of the Department of Homeland Security thought it was a clever way to convey machismo and give a sense of mission to members of VIPR teams. But it also illustrates how the 9/11 terrorist attacks have caused the United States to lose its grip and behave like a cornered snake rather than a strong, free country.

The natural illogic of VIPR stings is that terrorism can strike anywhere, so VIPR teams should search anywhere. It’s the undoing of the Fourth Amendment, and it’s unwarranted counterterrorism because it expends resources on things that won’t catch or deter terrorists. Indeed, VIPR “stings” may encourage terrorism because they show that terrorism successfully undermines the American way of life.

The FY 2010 Defense Authorization

Yesterday Congress passed the $680 billion FY 2010Defense Authorization Bill, which authorizes the largest such budget since the end of World War II. If, as is all but certain, President Obama signs the legislation, he will have failed to halt the inexorable growth in military spending, and he will signal to American taxpayers that they should expect more of the same. What’s worse, most of this money is not geared to defending America. Rather, it encourages other countries to free-ride on the United States instead of taking prudent steps to defend themselves.

The defense bill represents only part of our military spending. The appropriations bill moving through Congress governing veterans affairs, military construction and other agencies totals $133 billion, while the massive Department of Homeland Security budget weighs in at $42.8 billion. This comprises the visible balance of what Americans spend on our national security, loosely defined. Then there is the approximately $16 billion tucked away in the Energy Department’s budget, money dedicated to the care and maintenance of the country’s huge nuclear arsenal.

All told, every man, woman and child in the United States will spend more than $2,700 on these programs and agencies next year. By way of comparison, the average Japanese spends less than $330; the average German about $520; China’s per capita spending is less than $100.

The massive imbalance between what Americans spend on our military, and what others spend, flows directly from our foreign policy. Several decades ago, Washington opted to be the world’s policeman, and has ever since discouraged other countries from spending more on their own defense. President Obama has tacitly questioned this approach in the past, and has called on other countries to step forward and do more. But his actions will drown out his words.

The president has defended his support for continued bloated military spending, with additional monies going especially to a larger conventional army, as a way to reduce the strains on our troops and their families. This is a noble impulse. But a far better way to relieve the burdens on our overstretched force is to rethink all of our global military commitments, and align our strategy to our means. A new grand strategy, predicated on self-reliance and restraint, would relieve the burdens from the backs of our troops and from taxpayers. That new strategy would compel other countries to finally assume their rightful responsibilities in defending themselves and their respective regions.  

The governing class in Washington has consistently resisted such a change. It is enamored of its ability to manage not just the rest of the country, but indeed the rest of the world, and sees no reason to change. Neither, it would seem, does President Obama. By embracing a military budget explicitly geared toward sustaining the status quo, the president virtually ensures that other countries will not share in the costs of keeping the world relatively prosperous and at peace.

Is the U.S. Government Behaving Strategically With Regard to Al Qaeda?

To its credit, the Department of Homeland Security distributes important documents via email. (Subscribe on their home page by scrolling down to find the “Subscribe to E-mail Updates:” box in the right column, then select your preferences.)

Yesterday DHS sent me a copy of the written testimony by Michael E. Leiter, Director of the National Counterterrorism Center, for a Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee hearing titled: “Eight Years After 9/11: Confronting the Terrorist Threat to the Homeland.”

As I read Leiter’s (relatively brief) testimony, I wondered how well it squares with the strategic counsel offered by Audrey Kurth Cronin, Professor of Strategy at the U.S. National War College, Senior Research Associate in the Changing Character of War Programme at Oxford University, and a participant in Cato’s January counterterrorism strategy conference.

In her Institute for International Strategic Studies paper, “Ending Terrorism: Lessons for Defeating Al-Qaeda,” she offered several counterterrorism strategy pointers:

The first prong of a successful strategy to counter al-Qaeda’s terrorism is to clarify to audiences around the globe exactly what al-Qaeda is and what it is not. This is not just of academic interest. It is partly because there is so much vague use of the name ‘al-Qaeda’ that it seems superhuman and ubiquitious… . When politicians and experts employ the term ‘al-Qaeda’ loosely, they help its propagandists to construct and perpetuate their desired image and to mobilise support.

Violent internal cleavages and bickering are endemic to the al-Qaeda movement, and have been from the outset, and the second prong in a successful strategy against al-Qaeda is consciously to exploit them.


The third element in a successful strategy against al-Qaeda is to disaggregate the many elements of the movement and develop more sophisticated, targeted counter-terrorism policies tailored to its constituent parts. The aim must be to enlarge the movement’s internal inconsistencies and differences … .

At our counterterrorism conference, terrorism expert Marc Sageman similarly said, “We often unify our enemies needlessly… . Let’s not unify our enemy and give it strength that way.”  (If you don’t watch all of panel III, you can start at minute 66.)

Read Michael E. Leiter’s testimony for yourself and see how well it reflects the counsel of these experts.